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Creative Agency, Musical Autonomy, and Post-Raciality in Temple University's Jazz Studies Program

  • Author(s): Neil, Matthew Sean
  • Advisor(s): Ritter, Jonathan
  • et al.

In the last 30 years, university conservatory programs have become central sites of jazz activity. As jazz continues to move into the university, its future will be increasingly determined by the institutions of higher education that shape the music's knowledge production, supply of musicians, and creative aesthetics. This thesis fills a need for additional scholarship on these university jazz conservatory programs as important sites of music making, while paying particular attention to the implications of university institutionalization on jazz. Through interviews of alumni of Temple University's jazz studies programs, I explore how students navigate issues of creative agency in the face of a uniform pedagogy promoted by the university; economic hardships for jazz which the university helps perpetuate; the symbiotic relationship between the university and its encompassing local community; and the value of a perceived "tradition" as promoted by university jazz studies programs. Though this "tradition" stems from African American cultural practices, particularly the post-bebop era of the 1940s to 1960s, I argue that university jazz programs such as Temple, following the lead of Jazz at Lincoln Center, present this jazz tradition as deracinated and stripped of its social context. As jazz continues to move into the realm of high art, its once culturally defined musical attributes become purely aesthetic material suitable for consumption and production as autonomous art in the conservatory. As a result, jazz becomes increasingly regarded in terms suiting a contemporary ideology of post-raciality, which in the name of greater inclusion risks losing the music's cultural particularity. The institutionalizing of jazz thus can act as a viewing lens into twenty-first century American society and prevailing ideologies of multiculturalism.

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